In the gospels, there are dozens of stories in which people personally encounter Jesus and are transformed by the experience. In many of these stories, people are brought to Jesus through the witness and intercession of others. We find this especially in the early chapters of the Gospel of John. In Chapter 1, Simon Peter is brought to Jesus by his brother Andrew who had been directed to Jesus by John the Baptist. Nathaniel is brought to Jesus by Philip. In Chapter 2, Mary intercedes with her son on behalf of the bridegroom and his guests at the wedding feast of Cana and, as a result, “his disciples began to believe in him” (John 2:11). In Chapter 4, Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman and, after she comes to believe in him, she witnesses to her whole town and “many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified” (John 4:39). The people in these gospel accounts are transformed by their personal encounters with Jesus. Those encounters, however, are made possible by a prior encounter with one of Jesus’ disciples.
Saint John the Evangelist tells these stories in his gospel, not only to record the history of Jesus’ ministry, but also to provide examples of Christian witness. In his narration of these events, he tells us that part of being a disciple – one who has been transformed by a personal encounter with Jesus – is to invite others to experience that same encounter with Jesus.
To be sure, it is the encounter with Jesus that is transformative. The Samaritan townspeople say to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world” (John 4:42). Nevertheless, the role of the woman who first witnessed to them is vital. Having encountered Jesus and heard his voice, she testified to her neighbors, facilitating their personal encounters with Jesus. This, Saint John is telling us, is the role of the disciple.
This missionary aspect of Christian discipleship is lived out in the works of Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry of New York. We might even say it describes of the purpose of Christian health care ministry: to facilitate in the lives of the men and women in the heath care community the transforming personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Like the disciples in the gospel stories, we do this by first encountering Christ ourselves. Then, once we have encountered him ourselves, we invite others to encounter Christ in a new and transformative way.
The most profound way that Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry facilitates personal encounters with Christ is through the administration of the sacraments. In the sacraments, and most especially the Eucharist, Jesus is most truly present and most powerfully active. When Dominican friars and lay collaborators administer the sacraments, we facilitate a direct encounter with Jesus Christ that is a profound and transformative reality in people’s lives. It is the encounter with Jesus, present in his sacraments, that is transformative. Nevertheless, the role of the minister is vital. The witness that we give when we encounter the people we serve can go a long way in opening their hearts to the grace that is given to them in the sacraments.
As Christian health care ministers, we facilitate encounters with Jesus in the lives of the sick, their families, and the clinicians who care for them by our kind and caring presence. Not everyone in the health care community will be a recipient of the sacraments, but everyone is eligible to be the object of our care. The kind and caring disposition of ministers who come to bring the presence of Jesus to people in distress can play a role in facilitating a renewed encounter with the Lord for the sick and those who care for them. Through the witness of our charity, prayerfulness, helpfulness, compassion and concern, we sometimes play a role in bringing about reconciliation for those who may have stayed from the flock of Christ, the Good Shepherd. Often times, the effects of our witness of charity will bear fruit in ways we will never be aware of in this life. Our hope is that, having recognizing us as disciples who have been transformed by our encounter with Jesus, those to whom we minister will come to their own encounter with Jesus and say with the Samaritans in Saint John’s Gospel, “we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”